You’ve likely heard of Persona 5 by now. Atlus’ highly stylised JRPG saw its initial release on Playstation 3 and Playstation 4 in September 2016 in Japan, going global in April 2017. The fifth instalment in the massively popular Persona series, it saw huge success, garnering admiration for its in-depth world-building, stylish UI, funky music, exciting combat, and striking characters.
I’ll begin by saying I am a huge fan of Persona 5. Having picked up a copy on PS4 near release, I’ve made a habit of whipping it out every couple of months, especially in autumn, to reacquaint myself with this wonderfully unique adventure. Hearing Beneath the Mask playing and visiting Cafe Leblanc to have a bowl of curry with Sojiro stirs a sense of comfort and familiarity in me like no other. So, with the definitive edition of Persona 5 Royal hitting multiple platforms this fall, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Switch version to test it out myself.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Persona 5, it places you in the shoes of a transfer student, starting a new life at Shujin Academy after being placed on probation for doing what he thought was the right thing. Setting about turning over a new leaf, he attempts to settle into his home above Sojiro’s little coffee shop, catching the train to school, and picking up odd jobs to help supplement his income.
However, the world is full of pretty shady people, and your character discovers that he has the power to change their hearts. Along with an ever-growing group of misfits, he forms a group called the Phantom Thieves, who infiltrate the metaphysical mind palaces of the corrupt and evil, staging grand heists and fighting through a mirage of monsters to make the bad guys change their ways. Kind of like vigilante mental warfare?
It’s a bizarre concept, and I’ve always found it tough to summarize what exactly Persona 5 is, but the game does a brilliant job of immersing you in its world, pushing you to suspend disbelief and embrace its weird and wacky ways. The narrative is told through a mixture of voiced and unvoiced visual novel dialogue, along with 2D clips, brought to life in a striking anime style.
Through unravelling the stories of the antagonists, confidants, and other characters, you build a strong understanding of Persona 5’s intricately crafted world, and, though many details are pretty out-there, everything slots perfectly into place by the game’s conclusion.
The core gameplay revolves around balancing the normal world with the Metaverse. In the normal world, you’re just an ordinary high school student – albeit with a big secret to hide. You attend school, take exams, study in the library and cafes, try to hold a part-time job, hang out with your friends, and wander the streets of Tokyo.
In the Metaverse, you explore the large palaces (this game’s version of dungeons) tied to your current target, each with its own unique theme, and attempt to work out the symbolic object of the target’s desires in order to make them see the light. You can also visit Mementos, a multi-layered, randomly-generated dungeon in which you can fulfil NPC quests received through confidant links.
The Metaverse is full of enemy Shadows, which are ‘physical manifestations of suppressed psyches’. Shadows take the form of mythological and religious figures, and their wide range of designs never fail to impress. You run freely around Mementos and the palaces, and upon engaging in battle, you are transported to a separate arena. Combat is turn-based, allowing you to choose from a selection of actions each time one of your party members takes a turn.
Options include attacking with your weapon, summoning your powerful Persona, using an item, or passing the baton to the next party member. Each party member has a unique Persona which you can later fuse and upgrade, and every enemy has specific weaknesses and strengths for you to make use of.
Despite its turn-based format, the fighting always feels quick and fluid, with strong moves that make you feel truly powerful. That doesn’t mean it’s easy though. All palaces need to be completed by a certain in-game date, and every time you choose to visit a palace, it takes a whole night.
The most economical way to ensure you have enough time to upgrade your traits and increase your relationships with all of your confidants is to try and complete a palace in one night, but you don’t regenerate HP or SP while inside. This adds a unique challenge to the game, as you attempt to balance your responsibilities between both the real world and the Metaverse, and increasing the difficulty level impacts the importance of your time management skills above all else.
Outside of the striking visuals, enveloping narrative, and intriguing gameplay, the sound design of Persona 5 is truly a piece of art. From the muted, jazzy background music overlaid with the pattering rain as you walk the streets of Tokyo on a quiet evening, to the vibrant, electric sound of Life Will Change as you step onto the battlefield, the music truly sets the vibe for the whole experience. In fact, Beneath the Mask was on my Spotify most played list two years in a row, amongst a bunch of indie emo bands it totally didn’t fit in with. I genuinely love it that much.
The definitive edition of Persona 5 Royal comes with the extra confidants and content introduced in P5 Royal, further expanding the adventure with new stories and fresh faces to familiarize yourself with. It also comes with over 40 items of previously released DLC, from costumes to soundtracks, which are entirely unnecessary but extremely fun for fans of the base game nonetheless.
In terms of how the game runs on Switch, it’s a little bit of a mixed bag. The iconic UI is just as sharp and vibrant as it always has been, and is scaled perfectly to both docked and handheld mode. The primary font is clear, uniform, and easy to read, and all of the information you need is accessible through a few buttons (menu, settings, save, etc.).
Where the visuals take a bit of a stumble is through the resolution. Naturally, it’s to be expected that the graphics would be downscaled to ensure a smooth running experience on Switch as opposed to PC and other consoles. However, the muddier visuals when playing on a large screen is quite noticeable to those who have played it before.
This is far less of a problem in handheld mode and on older monitors. Plus, the graphical downscale may well be a worthy sacrifice for being able to play the game on the go. I’m especially happy about having the option to snuggle up in bed and play on cold nights with a cup of tea in hand.
Another positive is that I experienced no stuttering, lag, or crashes at all. It plays at a solid 30FPS, and load times on the OLED Switch are impressively quick – something it actually does better than the PS4. The controls are also responsive and snappy, with the layout feeling natural to use and easy to adapt to.
Overall, I genuinely love Persona 5 and seeing the definitive edition of Persona 5 Royal make it to Switch has brought me real joy. While the visual performance does take a hit on this platform, it still manages to keep the technical performance and amazing, fluid gameplay of the original, with the bonus of being able to play it any time, any place.
If you’ve never picked up P5 before and are considering finally diving into its crazy, jazzy world, don’t hesitate any longer – whether you grab Persona 5 Royal on Switch or any other platform. If you have played it before, then the Switch version offers a unique experience, allowing you to return to the magic wherever you are. It’s time to take off the mask once again. Life will change, but the fact that Persona 5 is an awesome game will not.
Person 5 Royal is a wonderfully immersive and iconic JRPG, featuring striking, stylised visuals, fast-paced, turn-based combat, and a unique world full of captivating characters and stunning stories. Though the Switch somewhat stumbles with downscaled visual performance, it provides an otherwise smooth experience, and the novelty of being able to take the Phantom Thieves on the go is certainly a plus. Long live the phantom thieves!